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The Human Factor

The most important human factor in the policy-making process is the homogeneity of the political and business elites. They tend to be graduates of a relatively small number of top-ranked universities. Regardless of these individuals' regional or class origins, their similar educational backgrounds encourage their feeling of community, as is reflected in the finely meshed network of marriage alliances between top official and financial circle (zaikai) families. The institution of early retirement also foster homogeneity. In the practice of amakudari, or descent from heaven, as it is popularly known, bureaucrats retiring in their fifties often assume top positions in public corporations and private enterprise. They also become politicians. By the late 1980s, most postwar prime ministers had had civil service backgrounds.

This homogeneity facilitates the free flow of ideas among members of the elite in informal settings. Bureaucrats and business people that are associated with a single industry, such as electronics, often hold regular informal meetings in Tokyo hotels and restaurants. Political scientist T.J. Pempel has pointed out that the concentration of political and economic power in Tokyo-- particularly the small geographic area of its central wards--makes it easy for leaders, who are almost without exception denizens of the capital, to have repeated personal contact. Another often overlooked factor is the tendency of elite males not to be family men. Late night work and bar-hopping schedules give them ample opportunity to hash and rehash policy matters and engage in haragei (literally, belly art), or intimate, often nonverbal communication. Like the warriors of ancient Sparta, who lived in barracks apart from their families during much of their adulthood, the business and bureaucratic elites are expected to sacrifice their private lives for the national good.

Data as of January 1994